for you. If you enjoy it, two bucks tonP.O. Box 30, Prospect, Kentuckyn40059, will bring you a copy of RealnBarbecue ISIews with, among othernthings, the itinerary of a three-day,ntwo-night, eleven-barbecue-and-onefried-pie-jointntour of Kentucky. (Betweennthat and Joe Bob Briggs’s I^ewsnof the Weird, my mailman has startednto look at me funny.) Better yet, get thenbook. Give it to your aerobics instructornfor Christmas.nJohn Shelton Reed lives in ChapelnHill, North Carolina, and never met ansmoked pig he didn’t like.nLetter From Ohionby Janet Scott BarlownFlat-Out FunnynTen people are gathered around thentable in a Chicago kitchen. Most ofnthem are Kentuckians who left the farmnfor the factories during World War II.nThey brought with them what is callednin the country their “ways”—their lovenof simple food, their attachment to plainnmusic, their conviction that their money,ntheir politics, and their religion arennone of anybody’s business. Above all,nthey brought with them their idea ofnwhat is funny—not amusing, not witty,nbut funny.nAs their children charge about or sitnlistening on their parents’ laps, thenpeople tell jokes, and huge bursts ofncollective laughter explode in the smallnroom. When they run out of jokes,nthey tell stories. The jokes and storiesnsound very much the same, the onlyndifference being that the jokes arensomeone’s invention, while the storiesnare real. It is significant that the laughternfor the truth is often louder than thenlaughter for the inventions.nWhat is happening here is morenthan an exercise in diversion or selfsuppliednentertainment. An attempt isnbeing made to accept, if not always tonunderstand, the nature of life. Fornthese people the attempt is, on thenwhole, successful. This group is mynfamily—my parents, my aunts andnuncles — and I am one of the childrennwaiting expectantly for the next roar.nWhat was so funny in that crowdednkitchen? Maybe it’s easier to start withnwhat was not funny. Puns and wordplaynwere not funny, although therenwas present an instinctual feel for thenrhythms of language, the effect of anwell-timed pause, the impact of a wellchosennphrase. Humor that was toonbig—flashy, urgent, aggressive—wasnnot funny; but humor that was toonsmall, too whimsical or mellow, wasneven less funny. In other words, AndynRooney would have lost a funny contestnto Joan Rivers, but the outcomenwouldn’t have mattered. (The neurotic,nself-revealing humor of Woody Allennwould have been considered simplynunfathomable and creepy.) The abstractnand the fantastical were not funny.nI heard hundreds of jokes in mynhouse when I was growing up, and notnone of them began, “This gorilla walksninto a bar …”nThat leaves reality, as it was seen bynmy family. What was funny was thenpredictable unpredictability of reality,nthe known capacity of human beings tontake the wholly improbable and turn itninto fact. What was funny were thenways in which people could be, in mynfather’s words, “just plain goofy.”nGoofiness was determined by stupidity,nnot ignorance. You could be withoutnknowledge, but if you were withoutnsense, you became a story to be toldnaround the kitchen table.nWhile there was an edge to thenlaughter, there was no meanness. Thengeneral feeling was. This could be me,nmaybe, but by God it isn’t, so far. Andnbecause the humor was not selffocused,nthere was little of the performer’snvanity. The premium was never onnbeing funny. The point was to recognizenwhat was funny and to reveal it,nlayer by layer, until it was there,nunbelievable and undeniable, for allnto see.nHere is funny: Faye, an acquaintancenof my parents, is given to longnnarrations containing too many detoursnand too little point. Nevertheless,nFaye is thought-provoking, in her fashion.nOne night she begins one of hernverbal rambles by putting a finger tonher chin and reflecting, “It was onnThanksgiving … I believe it was anThursday. …”nHere is flat-out funny: A mannnamed Dwight, a sort of relative bynmarriage of my family, is the backseatnpassenger in a big green automobile.nDwight wants to get rid of his chewingnnngum. So he decides the best way to getnrid of his chewing gum is to throw itnout the door. Since the car is a 1951nLincoln with reverse-mounted backndoors — handles toward the front ofnthe car, hinges toward the rear—andnsince this particular Lincoln is travelingn70 miles an hour, the laws of physicsntake over. The door blows off. And,nsince the owner and driver of the car isnmy father’s brother, this story is evennmore hilarious to my father and no lessnfunny to my uncle. The additionalnknowledge that everyone was boundnfor a visitor’s day at the Indiana StatenPenitentiary is the crowning perfection.nTo those inclined to ask questions —nlike why Dwight didn’t simply rollndown the window, or swallow his gum,nor put it behind his ear, or forget thenwhole thing — this story will alreadynhave fallen short on the laugh meter. Ifnyou want to get analytical, it was a casenof double goofy mixed with a twist ofnfate. Dwight opened the door of anspeeding car (goofy) when other alternativesnwere available (inexplicablyngoofy), a car fate had determined to benuniquely ill-designed for double goofiness.nBut why did Dwight do it? Whonknows? Why did God create Lincolnsnwith reverse-mounted back doors? Fornthat matter, why did God create chewingngum?nScholars and folklorists who havenstudied Kentucky culture and thenstorytelling heritage that pervades itndescribe traditional Kentucky humor asnfatalistic, Calvinistic, reflective of theninfluences of Celtic clannishness andnhardscrabble living — essentially tragic.nI suppose they’re right, but this seemsnawfully heavy baggage to hang on thatngood-time group in my childhoodnkitchen, people who looked at the truthnand could not help laughing. Whatnthey saw before they laughed was thatnlife is crazy and sometimes the crazinessncan have a go at your Lincoln andnif it’s going to happen it may as wellnhappen on a ride to the state pen.nNow, if you don’t find that funny,nthere’s always the one about the gorillanwho walks into a bar.nJanet Scott Barlow covers popularnculture from her home in Cincinnati,nOhio.nDECEMBER 1988147n